May 19, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” Doctrine Did Not Apply to Statements

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Archuleta on Thursday, January 26, 2017.

On December 5, 2012, Roger Louis Archuleta and his roommate in the housing facility left Archuleta’s apartment around 7 a.m., as captured by surveillance video. The roommate returned home around noon, and Archuleta returned later, remaining home the rest of the night. That night, other residents of the housing facility reported hearing loud noises. Around 4 a.m. on December 6, the surveillance video showed Archuleta dragging his roommate’s body down the hall, then back to his room. Archuleta then informed a residential aide at the housing facility that he had a body in his apartment that needed to be removed.

When the police arrived at defendant’s apartment, they found the deceased victim lying just inside the door, covered by a blanket. The police observed the victim had blood on him and appeared to have been beaten. They also found defendant seated on a mattress in the living room, apparently highly intoxicated and with a substantial amount of dried blood on his face and hands. There was blood spattered on all four walls in the apartment bedroom, which the prosecution’s expert testified was consistent with an altercation between two people.

The police took defendant to the police station; advised him of his Miranda rights under and interviewed him. They also took pictures of him, collected his clothing, and took swabs of suspected blood. Defendant ended the interview at the police station by indicating he wanted to speak to an attorney. Without obtaining a court order or defendant’s consent, police took defendant to the hospital, where three samples of his blood were drawn at one hour intervals. The court later held that the blood draw was unconstitutional; that holding was not challenged on appeal. Defendant was charged with second degree murder and first degree assault, and the jury found him guilty as charged.

Defendant appealed, arguing his convictions must be reversed because under the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, the trial court erred by failing to suppress statements he made in the course of his transport to and detention at the hospital for his blood draws, and also because there were errors in the jury instructions and the trial court improperly elicited and admitted testimony from the prosecution’s blood spatter analysis expert that his conclusions were independently verified. The court of appeals addressed the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine argument first.

The court found no error in the trial court’s admission of defendant’s statements to police officers while at the hospital and in transit. Defendant had made numerous rambling statements to the police while at the hospital, including several comments that seemed to relate to the victim’s death. At one point, the officer left but a recorder was left on in the room. Defendant was heard saying, “Shit. [Victim’s name]. You’re dead, you’re dead brother. I killed you.” The trial court held that the fruit of the poisonous tree was the result of the blood draw, not the statements. The court noted that it was entirely speculative whether defendant would have continued to make statements while at the police station, and the vast majority of his statements were spontaneous. The court of appeals agreed, noting that the exclusionary rule was properly applied to the blood draw results, and that the statements were not fruit of the poisonous tree. The court found that defendant failed to establish a causal connection between the illegality of the warrantless blood draws and the challenged statements.

Defendant also contended the jury instruction defining “cause” misstated the law because it instructed the jury that the victim’s preexisting physical condition was not a defense to the murder and assault charges. He argues that while a victim’s preexisting conditions generally do not impact the causation element, they are relevant to the culpable mental state. The court of appeals disagreed. The court held that because the trial court’s instruction that “it is no defense that the victim was suffering from preexisting physical ailments, illnesses, injuries, conditions or infirmities” was not a stand-alone instruction but rather was embedded into the definition of “cause,” there was no error. The court noted that it is no defense that a victim who had been in good physical condition would have survived an attack; a defendant cannot be excused from guilt and punishment because his victim was weak and could not survive the torture he administered. The court rejected defendant’s contention that the instruction misstated the law.

The defendant also asserted that the trial court plainly erred by giving an erroneous elemental instruction for first degree assault and admitting hearsay testimony from the prosecution’s blood spatter analysis expert. The court of appeals again disagreed, finding that the instruction tracked the statutory language and was therefore sufficient, and the blood spatter analyst’s testimony that someone else always reviews his work was a general statement that did not rise to the level of plain error.

The court of appeals affirmed defendant’s convictions.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Ex-Girlfriend Lacked Actual and Apparent Authority to Consent to Search

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Morehead on Thursday, September 25, 2015.

Warrantless Search—Consent—Actual and Apparent Authority.

After defendant kicked his girlfriend, N.H., out of his house, she gave consent for the police to search defendant’s residence. Without a warrant, the police searched a portion of defendant’s residence and found illegal gambling machines and padlocked doors. A second search was conducted pursuant to a warrant, and that search revealed incriminating evidence that defendant was involved in dealing methamphetamine and illegal gambling. He was found guilty of possession of methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, and seven gambling charges.

On appeal, defendant contended that the trial court erred in determining that N.H. had authority to consent to the warrantless search of his house. At the relevant time, N.H. was given access to the house to move her possessions out. Thus, N.H. did not enjoy “mutual use and joint access or control” of the residence “for most purposes.” Accordingly, the People failed to prove that N.H. had actual authority to consent to the search of the common areas of defendant’s house. Further, the objection by defendant’s son to N.H.’s entry, combined with the strong appearance that she was moving out and had limited access to at least one critical entrance to the residence, should have alerted the police to inquire further into whether N.H. had authority to enter. Thus, she also did not have apparent authority to consent to the search, and the warrantless search of defendant’s house violated the Fourth Amendment. Because it could not be determined whether defendant’s conviction was surely unattributable to the illegal search, the trial court’s suppression order and defendant’s conviction were reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Stale and Weak Information Not Sufficient to Provide Probable Cause for Search

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Cordova on Monday, July 6, 2015.

An Oklahoma City police detective obtained a warrant to search Omero Cordova’s home. The warrant’s supporting affidavit was based on evidence from an unnamed informant that 21 months prior to the warrant’s execution, a drug transaction not involving Cordova had taken place outside his former home; one of the participants in that prior transaction had been at Cordova’s current home four months prior to the warrant’s execution; Cordova’s mother had purchased the home for him; and surveillance revealed that Cordova’s car was parked in his own driveway. Officers executed the search warrant and found four firearms, $12,000 in cash, 123.7 grams of marijuana, a digital scale, baggies, a heat sealer, and a ledger. The officers triggered Cordova’s security alarm, and the security company called Cordova, who returned home. He was arrested, and the officers requested that Cordova call his wife so they could determine her involvement in the drug scheme. Cordova repeatedly asserted that everything in the house was his.

Cordova was indicted on six counts, and he moved to suppress the physical evidence and his statements, arguing the affidavit did not provide probable cause to support the warrant. Although the district court agreed that the affidavit failed to provide probable cause, it allowed entry of the physical evidence and statements through the good faith exception. A jury convicted Cordova on all six counts and he was sentenced to 136 months’ imprisonment. He appealed.

On appeal, Cordova argued the affidavit contained so little indicia of probable cause that no reasonable officer would have relied on it and the district court erred in concluding otherwise. He also contends the police coerced his confession and the district court should have suppressed his statements. The Tenth Circuit agreed. Analyzing the affidavit, the Tenth Circuit found the information tying Cordova to the drug trafficking scheme was stale and weak. The Tenth Circuit noted the affidavit was devoid of any facts supporting the inference that Cordova or his home were involved in the other person’s drug transactions. The Tenth Circuit rejected the government’s argument that the other person had unfettered access to Cordova’s home, since it was based on one incident in which there was no evidence of drug activity. The Tenth Circuit remarked that the good faith exception is not limitless and could not apply in this instance.

The Tenth Circuit concluded the officers acted unreasonably in carrying out the warrant and reversed the district court’s decision. The Tenth Circuit also accepted the government’s concession that Cordova’s subsequent statements were fruit of the poisonous tree and reversed the district court’s denial of suppression.

Tenth Circuit: Defendant Lacked Standing to Challenge Fruits of Someone Else’s Poisonous Tree

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Davis on Wednesday, May 7, 2014.

Defendant Davis was convicted by a jury of robbery, use of a firearm during a robbery, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to a total 360 months’ imprisonment with three years’ supervised release. Davis appealed his conviction on three assertions of error: (1) the denial of his motion to suppress evidence seized from a car in which he was a passenger, (2) the jury instructions insofar as they allowed the jury to convict him of aiding and abetting without the requisite knowledge or participation, and (3) sufficiency of the evidence concerning a substantial effect on interstate commerce. He eventually conceded the third point because of circuit precedent. The Tenth Circuit affirmed on all points.

Davis was a passenger in a car driven by co-defendant Baker that was stopped after the robbery of a Radio Shack in Overland Park, Kansas. Police had been investigating a string of armed robberies and suspected that Baker’s girlfriend’s car was being used in the robberies. A GPS tracking device was installed on Baker’s girlfriend’s car without a warrant while it was parked at an apartment. This GPS tracking device and other evidence led to the arrest of Davis and Baker after the Radio Shack robbery. During police interviews, Davis confessed that he knew Baker intended to rob the Radio Shack and he saw Baker pull a gun from his waistband prior to entering the car after the robbery. During trial, Davis moved to suppress evidence found in the car, citing a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The government proceeded in trial on the theory that Davis robbed the Radio Shack at gunpoint, but noted that even if he had waited in the car as set forth by the defense, there was sufficient evidence of his aiding and abetting the robbery to support a conviction.

As to the first point of error, the Tenth Circuit examined the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine and noted that in order to have standing to suppress the evidence, Davis must prove that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated. Because Davis did not own or regularly drive the car to which the GPS device was attached, he could have no expectation of privacy in the car. The Tenth Circuit noted that “Because the poisonous tree was planted in someone else’s orchard, Mr. Davis lacks standing to challenge its fruits.”

The second point of error was not properly preserved for review in the trial court, and the Tenth Circuit examined the contention for plain error. It found none. The general aider-and-abetter instruction given the jury adequately informed of the requirement that Davis have advance knowledge of Baker’s intent to commit a crime, and that was enough to survive a plain error challenge. The judgment of the district court was affirmed.